Monkey & Me

How to tame your ego

Martin O'Toole
4 min readMay 18


How to tame your inner monkey.

Monkey: ego — the complex and doughy layer cake of primordial instinct and societal, familial, religious, and personal conditioning — often perceived as “the enemy”.

Me: the conscious Me manifesting wherever (and whenever) one rises above the chattering, surviving, and suffering melodrama of mind.

Earth Rover: the super-intelligent biotechnology suit worn by consciousness while romping around Earth School.

It’s altogether possible that you’ve heard of the “Monkey Mind”. Originating in Buddhism, the idea compares the mind’s restless and chaotic nature to that of a monkey swinging from one thought to another, perhaps altogether less strategically than a simian in search of its next omnivorous feed. The Buddhist’s solution to this malady lies in emptying one’s mind.

Taoist philosophy also emphasises the importance of stillness and emptiness to achieve inner peace, while Confucianism sees the Monkey Mind as an obstacle to creating a harmonious society — troublesome as such a troop would likely be.

“The inner is foundation of the outer. The still is master of the restless”.

Lao Tzu

The term “Monkey Mind” has found its way into modern psychology, referencing our tendency towards easy distraction, leading to scattered thoughts, anxiety, and stress. Perhaps you can relate to this phenomenon, mainly when focusing on something essential but struggling as your mind wanders towards tangent after tangent. Regardless of its evolution, the Monkey Mind remains a perfect and practical metaphor for our ever-restless thoughts and the need to find stillness in our increasingly hectic lives.

Alas, as cute as they may be, monkeys have a lousy rap amidst the mindful. Hence, I also employ the Monkey metaphorically, though in a broader sense, to vivify the distinction between our ego and higher levels of consciousness.

Do you know when it takes longer than usual to awaken? You’re still so deep under that your eyes and limbs are in slo-mo as if immersed in treacle. I experienced something along these lines around the same time my life took a new direction. There I was, gagged and bound and “coming to” in the back seat of the Earth Rover. And if all of this wasn’t alarming enough, a somewhat dishevelled and battle-damaged Monkey sat comfortably in the driving seat! Clarity soon prevailed, and I realised that while I’d long been subdued like this, Monkey had assumed the pilot’s role — answerable only to himself.

Now then, all things said and done, despite a relatively rough start to life at Earth School, Monkey had managed to keep us alive for 40-something years. Despite never getting a driving license and one of his earliest instructors being a chronic alcoholic, he’d done his best. So, it’ll likely come as no surprise to learn that Monkey made a fine mess of the Earth Rover along the way. One can do a lot of crashing and smashing in a meandering 42 years.

Where was I? Ah, yes, wakey-wakey! So I freed myself and invited Monkey to pull over and switch seats. I did so with love, understanding, and gratitude for his service. Patience even — a keyword rarely featured in the Martin Story. Naturally, Monkey wasn’t exactly ecstatic about the transition — he’d been driving us around for so long, you see. But it was undoubtedly time for him to assume a new role — more like a helpful navigator and copilot, where we might put his vigilance and enthusiasm to better use. And that’s how we’ve been doing it for over four years, pretty much most of the time. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s been a smooth old road trip since then. And about fucking time.

Assuming you managed to stay with me through that hairy-handed, rambling metaphor, you’ll have the gist that, through self-realisation and unlearning, we can become the observer of our thoughts and deeds. We can learn how to tame Monkey from this newfound place of awareness. Such adventures are an opportunity for all of us to evolve, consciously stepping into our sovereignty.

We all have a Monkey — some stronger than others. Some know their furry friends’ presence, while others are oblivious. Some think that ego is the enemy, which on the one hand, is one hundred per cent accurate. On the other, however, we ought to be mindful that seeing an aspect of ourselves as a foe we must beat makes inner conflict altogether more likely.

We must love the Monkey. Observe him, her, or them. Cuddle and talk to them occasionally, offering alternative perspectives that likely involve more tranquillity. When conflict occurs, mindfulness and meditation are the order of the day, accessible techniques to calm our Monkey Minds and thus cultivate inner peace.

Don’t fall out with Monkey. Do be ready to have a stern word here or there. And whatever you do, keep the little bastard’s hands off the wheel as much as possible. Remember, Monkey’s a lousy driver and thus better suited to sit by your side, under your watchful eye.

Thus, be the observer. Self-realise. Unlearn. Move ahead as a revived and cohesive crew, taking the Earth Rover on exciting journeys to new places with a drastically reduced likelihood of another hit-and-run.

Be brave.

Be gentle.

Be kind.


Postscript: no monkeys were harmed in the making of this human.

How To Die Happy

If you want to understand more about the ego’s function in enhancing and hindering our time on Earth, you might enjoy my new book, How To Die Happy.



Martin O'Toole

How To Die Happy author, podcaster, and mental health advocate writing about healing and the Anatomy of Happy.